A senior Iranian official and top Chinese diplomats met to discuss Iran's nuclear program on Wednesday, but there was no immediate sign China would accept or decline an invite to tour that country's nuclear facilities.
China has backed U.N. Security Council resolutions pressing Iran to abandon its disputed nuclear activities but China has close energy and trade ties with Iran and has opposed unilateral sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States.
Iranian Deputy Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Bagheri met with Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun and Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Hailong in Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry said.
"Both sides exchanged views on Sino-Iran bilateral relations and the Iran nuclear issue," the ministry said in a brief statement on its website (www.mfa.gov.cn), which also showed pictures of the meetings.
It gave no more details.
China has yet to say whether it will accept or decline an offer from Iran to tour its nuclear facilities, saying only that it had received the invitation.
The European Union has turned down an offer from Iran to tour its nuclear facilities, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said on Friday.
Ashton said she had consulted Russia and China before deciding that the invitation should not be accepted.
The West suspects Iran's nuclear programme is directed at developing bombs. Iran says it is for peaceful energy only.
Talks next week between Iran and major powers concerned about its nuclear program could be the "last chance" for the West, a senior Iranian official was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE70B2D920110112
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for “a credible military option against Iran” to force Tehran to end its nuclear energy program.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu said that military action should be taken by the international community and headed by the United States.
"You have to ratchet up the pressure and… I don't think that this pressure will be sufficient to have this regime change course without a credible military option that is put before them by the international community led by the United States," he stated.
He went on to say that sanctions are not enough to stop Iran's nuclear energy program, and they should be backed by some military action.
He has made similar bellicose remarks in the past, but they were always rejected by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Netanyahu made the comments a week after Tehran announced Iran's nuclear sites were being opened to envoys representing "geographical and political groups" in the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The invitation came ahead of the multifaceted talks between Iran and the P5+1 group — Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany — that are scheduled to be held in Turkey from January 21 to 22.
Iran and the P5+1 group wrapped up two days of comprehensive talks in Geneva on December 7, during which the two sides agreed to hold the next round of negotiations in Turkey.
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili represented Iran at the talks and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton represented the P5+1 group.
The UN Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran last year.
But Tehran says sanctions have failed to hamper its efforts to master peaceful nuclear technology.
And the IAEA continues to conduct regular inspections and camera surveillance of Iran's nuclear facilities.
Iranian officials say the talks provide an opportunity to display Iran's policy of nuclear transparency to the international community.
Available at: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/159762.html
3. Risk of Strike on Iran Over Nuclear Plans Recedes
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Sanctions and possible sabotage may be slowing Iran's nuclear drive, reducing the risk that Israel might resort to military strikes against the Islamic Republic's atomic sites any time soon.
Technical glitches and other hurdles for Iran's uranium enrichment programme could also provide more time for diplomatic efforts by major powers to persuade it to curb work the West fears is aimed at making bombs, a charge Tehran denies.
"There is a feeling that the sanctions and also some of the covert action are buying time, more time than many previously expected," a senior Western diplomat said.
Oliver Thraenert, senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said: "I do believe people are a bit more relaxed now ... the technical problems the Iranians have are much more severe than expected."
This is likely to reduce the persistent speculation in recent years that Iran's foes, especially Israel but also the United States, may soon launch military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear dispute.
Israel, which bombed an Iraqi reactor in 1981 and a suspected Syrian nuclear site in 2007, sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence and has indicated it could use force to prevent it developing such weapons.
But Israeli intelligence assessments published last week said the Jewish state now believed Iran would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon before 2015 and that a top Israeli official had counseled against pre-emptive military action.
It signaled new confidence in U.S.-led sanctions and other measures designed to discourage or delay Iran's nuclear work.
"Israel appears no less willing to contemplate military action against Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons," Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said.
"However, there has been a dramatic change recently in statements from Israeli officials about the timeline they project for Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability."
WAR DRUM STOPPED BEATING?
U.S.-based journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote about the "coming confrontation" between Iran and Israel in an Atlantic magazine article last year, said one Israeli official now put the chances of an Israeli strike on Iran in the next year at below 20 percent.
"And he was one of the Israelis who felt, in the spring of last year, that it would be necessary for Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities by the end of 2011," Goldberg wrote in a blog this week.
Washington has not ruled out armed action against Iran, even though U.S. officials have warned that it would only delay its nuclear programme and that persuading Tehran to abandon its activities was the only viable long-term solution.
But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday that sanctions had set back Tehran's nuclear work, giving major powers more time to persuade it to change tack.
Shannon Kile at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said the "war drum was really beating" about a year ago, but this no longer seemed to be the case.
But any reduction in tension and lessening of talk of possible military conflict, with possible dire consequences for the world economy, could turn out to be temporary.
"There definitely has been sort of a de-escalation of the situation," Kile said. But, he added, "I don't see that as being necessarily something more permanent or lasting."
Iran is still amassing refined uranium -- material which can be used to make bombs if enriched much further -- and it is showing no sign of backing down in the long-running international dispute over its atomic ambitions.
"Technical difficulties and sanctions should not lead anyone to think we are near a solution," said Alireza Nader, an Iran specialist at the RAND Corporation.
"Iran may be motivated more than ever to develop the nuclear programme, especially since the ruling elite believe that backing down would send precisely the wrong signal to the United States and its allies."
IRANIAN NUCLEAR "BREAKTHROUGH"
Analysts say Iran's nuclear work has been experiencing technical difficulties for several years, partly because it is using enrichment centrifuges adapted from a smuggled 1970s European design which is prone to overheating and vibration.
Iran is testing an advanced, more durable model able to refine uranium two or three times faster, and says it intends to introduce it for production in the near future.
But the sanctions, which ban trade in nuclear-related technology and equipment, may make this more difficult.
Signs of foreign sabotage, such as the Stuxnet computer worm which some experts believe was aimed at Iran's enrichment activities, could also be a factor. In addition, Iran has blamed the West and Israel for the killing of two nuclear scientists last year, a charge Washington has rejected as "absurd."
The U.S.-based think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, said in an analysis that "overt and covert disruption activities have had significant effect in slowing Iran's centrifuge programme."
Iran rejects any suggestions that it is experiencing major technical woes and last week announced a new "breakthrough" in its nuclear programme, saying it would make its own fuel for a research reactor later this year.
It says its nuclear work is aimed at producing electricity.
Western officials say tougher sanctions imposed on Iran since last year are hurting its economy and that this may force it to enter serious nuclear talks with six world powers -- the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Britain and China.
But no substantial progress was made when talks resumed in Geneva last month, for the first time in more than a year, and expectations of a breakthrough are low ahead of a second round in Istanbul next week.
"Sanctions will not force Iran to capitulate," Thielmann said. "It is also clear that negotiations will be a drawn-out and difficult process, requiring many months."
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE70A55D20110111
1. Gates Urges North Korea to Announce Nuke, Missile Testing Moratorium
The Korea Herald
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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday called on North Korea to impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing to help revive international dialogue deadlocked for two years over the North’s provocations.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing after meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Gates also said that North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons will pose a threat to the U.S. within five years.
“Rhetoric is not enough at this point,” Gates said at a roundtable with reporters, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon. “I think there need to be concrete actions by the North to demonstrate that they’re truly serious about negotiation and engagement at this point. They could have a moratorium on missile testing, a moratorium on nuclear testing. There are several areas where they could take concrete actions.”
Gates was discussing a barrage of peace overtures from North Korea in recent weeks after tensions heightened last year to the highest level since the Korean War with the shelling of a South Korean front-line island and the torpedoeing of a South Korean warship, killing 50 people, including two civilians.
In its most recent proposal for unconditional inter-Korean dialogue, Pyongyang Monday called for a meeting of working-level officials later this month to prepare for possible ministerial-level talks.
Suspicious of the North’s history of creating tensions to win economic aid, South Korea proposed that the sides hold talks to discuss the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the torpedoeing of the Cheonan.
Seoul, Washington and Tokyo insist that Pyongyang apologize for the provocations before any resumption of bilateral or multilateral talks.
China, the North’s staunchest ally, has called for an early, unconditional resumption of the six-party talks that also involve the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan and Russia.
“We consider this a situation of real concern and we think there is some urgency to proceeding down the track of negotiations and engagement, but we don’t want to see the situation that we’ve seen so many times before, which is the North Koreans engage in a provocation and then everybody scrambles diplomatically to try and put Humpty-Dumpty back together again,” Gates said. “We would like to see are some concrete actions by North Korea that show that they’re serious about moving to a negotiation and an engagement track.”
The chief U.S. defense official said he had discussed North Korea with Hu.
“We spent some time on North Korea and the importance of some concrete measures on the part of the North Koreans to demonstrate they’re serious about proceeding with negotiations and exchanges,” he said. “The U.S. government recognizes and appreciates the constructive role that the Chinese have played over the last several months in dampening tensions on the Korean Peninsula. All of the evidence that I’ve seen suggests that the Chinese used their influence with Pyongyang to be restrained in response to any South Korean exercise activity.”
North Korea will be high on the agenda during the upcoming summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Hu in Washington on Jan. 19. Other mutual and global issues include the Chinese currency yuan’s revaluation and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Gates, who flew to Beijing Sunday to mend military ties, strained since early last year due to the Obama administration’s plans to sell more than US$6 billion in arms to Taiwan, also expressed concerns over North Korea’s missile and nuclear capabilities.
“The first is, with the North Koreans’ continuing development of nuclear weapons, and their development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the United States, and we have to take that into account,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an immediate threat, no. But on the other hand, I don’t think it’s a five-year threat. I think that North Korea will have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile within that timeframe, not that they will have huge numbers or anything like that, but I believe they will have a very limited capability.”
North Korea, which detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, is believed to be behind nuclear and missile proliferation in Iran, Syria, Pakistan and several other countries, as arms sales are considered one of its major sources of revenue. North Korea has for years been under U.N. economic sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests.
Online whistleblower WikiLeaks recently revealed a U.S. diplomatic cable in which U.S. officials insisted that North Korea had sent Iran 19 advanced missiles that “could clear a path toward the development of long-range missiles” with the capability to hit Western Europe.
North Korea also revealed in November a uranium enrichment plant that could serve as a second way of producing nuclear bombs, aside from its existing plutonium program, despite Pyongyang’s claims it is producing fuel for power generation.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, has said that North Korea could have developed nuclear warheads small enough to be mounted on ballistic missiles with the help of China or Pakistan.
Albright noted the seizure of a computer in Switzerland in 2007 that contained a modern nuclear bomb design from the network of A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist suspected of having provided uranium technology to North Korea in exchange for missile technology.
“It could have transferred from Khan to North Korea, and it could have been China,” he said.
China is under intense international pressure to persuade North Korea to refrain from heightening tensions and pursuing nuclear weapons programs.
China, the major provider of food, oil and other necessities to its isolated, impoverished communist ally, has been reluctant to sanction North Korea as any instability could result in a massive influx of North Korean refugees across their shared border or a unified Korean Peninsula under South Korean and U.S. control.
Available at: http://www.koreaherald.com/national/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20110112000544
2. North Korea Reopens Border Hotline With South Korea
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North Korea Wednesday reopened a cross-border hotline and sought talks on strengthening business projects with South Korea, continuing apparent peace overtures made after months of high tensions.
The South stuck to its conditions for any talks -- that the North take responsibility for provocations including a deadly artillery attack and confirm it is serious about scrapping its nuclear programme.
"Our stance remains unchanged," said Lee Jong-Joo, spokeswoman for Seoul's unification ministry, after confirming that the North Wednesday sent an official message seeking economic dialogue.
She told AFP the North wants talks next month on restarting cross-border tours to its Mount Kumgang resort and on improving cooperation at the Kaesong industrial estate also in the North.
Both the jointly-run projects have been valuable sources of hard currency for the cashapped communist state. The South halted the tours to Kumgang in July 2008 after a soldier shot dead a visiting Seoul housewife.
Liaison officials of the two countries made their first contact in nearly eight months through the phone hotline at the border village of Panmunjom.
The North shut down the Red Cross hotline last May after South Korea announced reprisals for what it said was a North Korean torpedo attack on a warship. The North denied involvement in the sinking, which killed 46 sailors.
Tensions rose to their highest level for years when the North on November 23 shelled a South Korean border island, killing four people including civilians.
But in a change of tack this year, the Pyongyang regime has been calling for dialogue. On Monday it sent its first official proposal for talks and said it would restore the hotline, long used as an official communications channel.
The South rejected that proposal and stated its terms for any government-level dialogue. Seoul says Pyongyang's overtures are a cosmetic exercise to improve its international image.
Spokeswoman Lee said the ministry did not see the reopening of the cross-border phone link as representing an improvement in relations.
Lee said the North this week had also sent a series of proposals for contacts with South Korean civic and religious groups.
"Instead of making proposals to civilian groups... we urge North Korea once again to show true sincerity for improved relations," she said.
Analysts said the North's moves follow US demands that it improve cross-border relations before six-party nuclear disarmament talks resume.
Pyongyang has expressed conditional willingness to return to the talks that it abandoned in April 2009, a month before staging a second nuclear test.
However it wants a lifting of UN sanctions and a US commitment to discuss a formal peace treaty before it comes back.
And the North fuelled regional security fears in November by disclosing a uranium enrichment plant -- potentially a second route to a nuclear bomb.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jz53iqDDrA4wwxEnVmB9H2K9DB4A?docId=CNG.74be369cc4573b35d80cca402f57f1f7.951
3. Six-Party Talks Optimum Platform for Easing Peninsula Tensions: Ambassador
Xinhua News Agency
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Resuming six-party talks is the optimum platform to push forward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Zhang Yesui, Chinese ambassador to the United States, said in his cross-ocean online interview from Xinhuanet Wednesday morning.
Recent tensions on the Korean Peninsular have shown that using pressure and threat of force did little to solve the DPRK nuclear issue. Restarting dialogue and consultation is the fundamental way to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula and guarantee peace and long-term stability in Northeast Asia, Zhang stressed.
He also said that China proposed emergency consultations among the heads of the delegations to the six-party talks.
He said, "On that basis, we also urged the early resumption of the six-party talks at a reasonably early time. All parties concerned should adhere to the joint statement issued in 2005 on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a comprehensive and balanced way, in order to propel the progress of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and realize peace and stability in this region.
Since the DPRK's shunning of the six-party talks, which also include Russia, last December 2008, the DPRK has conducted a second nuclear test and admitted to enriching uranium, which could provide a second means of producing atomic bombs and has thus drawn further ire from the international community.
Early this month, Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special envoy for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) policy, has paid a whirlwind visit to China, South Korea and Japan.
Bosworth's visit is of major significance in as much as it is the first time the U.S., China and Japan have acted simultaneously in the run-up to the Washington-Beijing summit scheduled for Jan. 19, which will see U. S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao discuss a number of key topics with the Korean situation expected to be high on the agenda at such a critical time for the East Asian region and the Korean Peninsular in particular.
China and the United States "agreed to continue to work for peace and stability on the peninsula while advancing the six-party talks," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news briefing after Bosworth finished his Beijing tour.
"China supports and welcomes all sides actively engaging with each other and taking the situation in a favorable direction," Hong added.
Zhang's remarks were made six days ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's scheduled state visit to the United States from Jan. 18 to 21 at the invitation of US President Barack Obama.
Hu's upcoming state visit is to be paid on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the restoration of China-US contacts and at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century.
Zhang's online interview was also given at a time when US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Beijing for a four-day visit to China.
Available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2011-01/12/c_13686970.htm
4. North Korea Says Ready for Talks with Japan: Media
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North Korea has extended a recent diplomatic charm offensive to Japan, saying via its state media that it welcomes Tokyo's willingness to resume direct talks, a news report said.
Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) called the comments made last week by Japan's Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara "a positive step" toward improving relations, Japan's Kyodo News agency reported.
KCNA said on its website that Maehara's comments, made on January 4 in Tokyo, "match the tide of the time to advance peace and stability in the new century and developments of nation-to-nation relations".
"We are ready to meet and talk with countries that are friendly to us," KCNA said. "If Japanese authorities move to improve ties, it would contribute to peace and development on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia."
Kyodo said the KCNA commentary, published at the weekend, did not touch on issues such as Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 80s, or Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.
Relations have long been hostile between Japan and North Korea, a communist state that has kept the region on edge with nuclear and missile tests, and which in November killed four people in an artillery strike on South Korea.
In recent days, North Korea has, however, urged a resumption of talks with South Korea -- an offer that has met with some scepticism in Seoul and Washington, which has demanded North Korea match its words with actions.
The US State Department said Monday that North Korea had entered "the charm stage" after a year of provocations, in which it was also blamed by a multinational panel for sinking a South Korean warship, killing 46.
During a news conference Tuesday, Maehara reiterated Japan's willingness to resume stalled talks with North Korea, with which Japan has no formal diplomatic relations, saying: "We want to firmly proceed with direct dialogue."
Maehara also hinted that Tokyo may go ahead with bilateral talks even before the resumption of six-way talks on the North's nuclear programme, which also include both Koreas, the United States, China and Russia.
"Six-way talks are the framework for discussing the nuclear issue," Maehara said. "We also have abduction and missile issues. I think Japan-North Korea talks should take place without being bound by whether six-way talks begin."
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hymVCzC-rXw6KKhGP_4d95_VPpGA?docId=CNG.4bc57302f621f6d39b28375535593e56.e1
1. Robert Gates Tours China Nuclear Warfare Headquarters
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US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has visited China's nuclear warfare headquarters, at the end of a four-day visit to try to mend relations between the two militaries.
"There was a discussion of nuclear strategy," including China's policy of not using nuclear weapons pre-emptively, Mr Gates said.
Officials from both countries praised the visit as a success.
Beijing froze military ties last year because of a US arms sales to Taiwan.
The rare view of China's nuclear and missile arsenal was given on a trip to the Second Artillery Corps of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) headquarters.
Both the US and China have long-range missiles capable of reaching each other's shores, but both have said they do not intend to use them.
The visit by Mr Gates to China was pronounced a success by both Beijing and Mr Gates.
"We believe exchanges with the US in all kinds of fields are beneficial. They'll add to our mutual trust and eliminate misunderstanding and miscalculations," said Guan Youfei, deputy chief of the Defence Ministry's foreign affairs office.
"The visit is a move to develop healthier and more stable relations between the two military establishments," he said.
Mr Gates said the commander of the nuclear headquarters, General Jing Zhiyuan, had accepted an invitation to US strategic Command headquarters in Nebraska.
"I think the discussions were very productive and set the stage for taking the military-to-military relationship to the next level," he said.
Mr Gates' visit comes ahead of a trip by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington next week.
China has agreed to more direct military co-operation with the US but it remains unclear how open and collegial such exchanges will be.
Mr Gates has said he wanted to convene a new round of military talks in the first half of this year to cover nuclear, missile defence, cyberwarfare and the military uses of space alongside the current focus on maritime issues.
Last year, tensions increased significantly over a series of maritime disputes, with the US supporting South East Asian concerns at China's re-stated claim to the South China Sea.
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12168922
Russia's parliament is likely to approve a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States this month, the speaker of the lower house said Tuesday.
State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the 450-seat chamber, dominated by the ruling United Russia Party, could approve ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in a third and final vote on Jan. 25. The Duma voted preliminary approval last month.
The treaty, signed by Presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in April, will commit the former Cold War foes to lower limits on the number of strategic nuclear weapons.
Analysts say rejection of the pact — which was praised by powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin late last year — is highly unlikely. The treaty is seen as one of Mr. Medvedev's few major foreign policy achievements.
Proposed changes to the ratification law, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, seek to emphasize Russia's right to withdraw from the treaty if it thinks national security is threatened by a U.S. missile shield or other Western military deployments.
Such declarations have no legal impact on the treaty, but they suggests diplomatic tension could increase if Russia is dissatisfied with the way Western missile defenses develop.
Meanwhile, a new agreement that will allow U.S. companies to export nuclear energy technology to Russia went into effect Tuesday, with the U.S. ambassador describing it as a "major step forward" in joint efforts to promote the peaceful use of nuclear power.
The civilian nuclear agreement, which cleared the U.S. Congress last month, allows the United States and Russia to exchange technology, engage in joint commercial nuclear power ventures and work more closely in combating nuclear proliferation.
U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle said the agreement opens the door to higher levels of cooperation, including the joint design of new technologies.
Moscow hopes the pact will lead to major contracts for its nuclear industry, including projects to enrich uranium and produce uranium fuel.
What we are trying to achieve is to create new — I would even say innovative — technologies of the nuclear fuel cycle, develop the reactor technologies to provide on the one hand economic and energy efficiency ... and on the other hand to reduce the risks of the potential improper use of the nuclear materials needed for these activities," said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
Available at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jan/11/russia-looks-ready-for-new-start/
3. Saudi, Japan Ready to Boost Nuclear Cooperation: Minister
Xinhua News Agency
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Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, and Japan are keen on boosting peaceful nuclear cooperation, Japan's visiting trade minister told Saudi daily Al- Riyadh on Tuesday, days after a Russian envoy to the kingdom said Russia and Saudi Arabia are on ongoing talks for signing a peaceful nuclear deal.
Tokyo and Riyadh are about to sign a number of agreements related to developing nuclear energy, Trade Minister Akihiro Ohata said, adding this kind of cooperation was up for discussion in the past.
Akihiro signaled Japan wants to transfer its technology to the kingdom.
The Japanese minister is now on a visit to Saudi Arabia where he held talks with ministers and officials on boosting bilateral ties and building joint ventures between Saudi and Japanese companies.
He said the two-way trade volume hit 136 billion Saudi riyals (36.2 billion US dollars).
In December, Russian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Oleg Ozerov said both countries are holding talks to pave the way for the signing of a deal on positive and constructive nuclear cooperation.
In October, a Saudi official said the kingdom is going to need more than 40 gigawatts of base load power by 2030, adding this power demand could be met by nuclear plants.
The kingdom has moved ahead to nuclear power in an attempt to move away from its dependence on fossil fuel, establishing the King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energies in April.
In July, the Saudi cabinet agreed to sign a nuclear cooperation pact with France and in 2008 the country signed a cooperation agreement on civil nuclear technology with the United States.
Available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2011-01/11/c_13685882.htm
A long-stalled civilian nuclear cooperation agreement between Russia and the United States entered into force on Tuesday in a milestone for the "reset" in relations between the former Cold War foes.
The so-called 123 Agreement took effect with an exchange of diplomatic notes between Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle in a brief ceremony in Moscow.
"This is really good work. It should not be politicized as sometimes happened in the history of Russian-American relations, but treated as business. Then we will achieve good results," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said.
The agreement, signed in 2008 but shelved by the White House amid acrimony over Russia's war with U.S. ally Georgia, was revived by President Barack Obama as part of his campaign to improve ties and bolster trade and security cooperation.
It creates a legal framework for closer cooperation between the United States and Russia on civilian nuclear research, production and trade, and both sides said it would help fight nuclear weapons proliferation.
Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia's nuclear power firm Rosatom, told Medvedev after the signing that the United States was "a key market" for Rosatom, which supplies over 40 percent of U.S. nuclear fuel under a program called 'Megatons to Megawatts'.
Kiriyenko said in 2010 Rosatom struck contracts worth close to $5 billion in excess of what was covered under the 20-year-old program. Following the acquisition of miner Uranium One, the Russian firm now controlled 20 percent of U.S. deposits.
Beyrle said Russia and the United States could cooperate in developing new reactors, fuels and other technology that would lessen the risk that dangerous nuclear materials could fall into the wrong hands.
The agreement will also help the nations implement a deal signed last month calling for conversion of Russian research reactors to the use of low-enriched uranium fuel instead of high-enriched fuel that can be used to make weapons.
It permits the transfer -- subject to U.S. licensing decisions -- of non-restricted technology, material and equipment including reactors and components for nuclear research and power production.
The deal will also allow nuclear energy joint ventures between Russian and U.S. companies and could potentially give Russia the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel that originated in the United States.
It comes into force amid expectations that Russian lawmakers will soon vote to ratify New START, a strategic nuclear arms limitation pact that is central to the "reset" and won approval in the U.S. Senate last month.
The speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament said on Tuesday that lawmakers were likely to vote their final approval of the treaty by the end of January.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE70A5LB20110111
1. TEPCO Seeks Fewer Reactor Checks, Higher Run Rate
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Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), Japan's biggest utility, will extend the interval between inspections at one of its nuclear reactors to 16 months, making it three months longer than now, to help raise power generation from nuclear operations, it said on Wednesday.
Comparatively frequent shutdowns for inspections are seen as a reason for Japan's nuclear plant utilisation rate being lower than those of some other countries. The rate was 68.3 percent last year compared with 90 percent in the United States.
A higher run rate also leads to lower greenhouse emissions and helps to curb thermal fuel consumption.
The Tokyo-based utility said the 1,100-megawatt No.3 reactor at its Fukushima-Daini nuclear plant will start extended operations pending government approval and following the completion of its next inspection, scheduled to start around May.
A similar move was announced in October by Tohoku Electric Power.
TEPCO is likely to eventually apply the longer interval to other nulcear reactors, which generate about 30 percent of its total power output.
To support higher nuclear run rates, the government eased inspection rules in 2009 to let plants run continuously for up to two years instead of 13 months, in line with practices overseas.
Japan's 54 nuclear generators all currently undergo inspections within 13 months of the last check.
The government also aims to cut the duration of each checkup from nearly five months now. Checks of U.S. reactors take just over a month.
Japan's trade ministry drafted a plan in April to boost the average nuclear plant run rate to about 85 percent by 2020.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTOE70B04K20110112
2. Ukraine Gives Nod to Russia Over Nuclear Reactors
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Ukraine's parliament gave the green light on Wednesday for a joint project with Russia to build two nuclear reactors in western Ukraine, financed by a multi-billion dollar Russian loan.
Ukraine already operates 15 nuclear units at four nuclear power plants, and nuclear energy covers about a half of its electricity needs.
But most power units were built in Soviet times and should reach the end of their working lives within the next 10 to 15 years.
The agreement, signed in April, 2010, calls for construction of two Russian-designed units at the Khmelnytsky plant, each with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts. Russia is to issue a loan to pay for the nuclear equipment it supplies to the project.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said last year that the loan could reach $2 billion, while one Russian official put it at "several billion of dollars".
Ukraine's relations with Russia have improved since Yanukovich won a presidential election last February, and the two countries have boosted ties in energy, security, industrial and aviation sectors. In September, Russian nuclear fuel maker TVEL won the right to build a nuclear fuel plant in Ukraine by 2013.
State-owned TVEL, the single supplier of fuel for Ukrainian nuclear power plants, had competed for the contract with U.S. firm Westinghouse, owned by Japan's Toshiba.
Available at: http://www.kyivpost.com/news/business/bus_general/detail/94600/
South Korea may have a new customer for its nuclear power plant technology.
The Philippines, a longtime ally to Korea, expressed interest during a three-day visit by their Foreign Minister Alberto Romulo.
While the details are still being discussed in Manila, the Southeast Asian nation believes that nuclear technology is an ideal option to replace fossil fuels and help protect their environment.
“We are affected by climate change,” he told The Korea Herald. “The Philippines suffered two devastating typhoons, Ketsana and Parma,” leaving hundreds dead and over $800 million worth of damage.
“We are part of that group looking for more binding commitments from others (countries participating in the United Nations climate change conferences) so that’s why we are looking at nuclear power, because it will contribute much less to the carbon emissions,” he said.
Trade and investments was also part of his talks with President Lee Myung-bak and Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.
In terms of trade, Korea is the archipelago’s 5th-largest trading partner, with products shipped on both sides forecasted to have hit close to $10 billion for 2010.
Romulo and Kim are looking to increase that to $15 billion in the coming years.
Romulo assured the Korean government that his government and agencies are doing everything possible to keep the over 700,000 Korean tourists and 115,000ong Korean diaspora in the Philippines safe from harm.
“Tourism is a very important part of our medium development plan,” Romulo noted.
Investments are also big business for Korean firms operating in the Philippines.
Hanjin is one of the biggest foreign investors in the Philippines, investing $1.65 billion in a shipyard in Subic. It is also constructing a shipping facility at the Philippine Veterans Investment Development Corp. in Misamis Oriental.
A resort project in Subic by Korean property developer M Castle Philippines also joined in raising foreign direct investment by building a resort and golf course costing $1.11 billion in the first half of 2010.
Romulo also spoke about the multi-industry cluster program which “is very important, because it would involve agriculture, eco-tourism, energy, biomass, so we are working together with Korea on this and already have specific programs (in place).”
The program will boost the economy in areas of rice and corn production and also develop irrigation projects.
“We are looking forward for the conclusion of the economic development cooperation program between Korea and Philippines,” he said.
Also during his meeting with Lee, Romulo was issued an invitation for President Benigno Aquino III to visit Korea.
Available at: http://www.koreaherald.com/national/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20110111000722
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